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[genet-news] SCIENCE & PLANTS: Biotech corn, soy does little to boost yield-study



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:  BIOTECH CORN, SOY DOES LITTLE TO BOOST YIELD-STUDY

SOURCE: Reuters, UK

AUTHOR: Christopher Doering

URL:    http://uk.reuters.com/article/governmentFilingsNews/idUKN1442276820090414

DATE:   14.04.2009

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BIOTECH CORN, SOY DOES LITTLE TO BOOST YIELD-STUDY

WASHINGTON, April 14 (Reuters) - Despite industry claims of higher yields from biotech corn and soybeans, much of the increase can be tied to other improvements in agriculture, according to a study released on Tuesday.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said its review found genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant soybeans and corn did not increase yields compared with conventional methods. Still, farmers embraced the technology partly because of lower energy costs and convenience associated with applying pesticides.

It also found another variety, BT corn, contributed to about 3.3 percent of the estimated 28 percent increase in corn yields since it was made available commercially in 1996. BT crops are resistant to certain insects.

?Genetic engineering, while it?s been good for some individual farmers, and great for the companies, really has not been very productive in terms of improving yields,? said Doug Gurian-Sherman of UCS who authored the report.

Instead, the study found much of the jump in yields can be attributed to successes in traditional breeding -- mixing genes to enhance one or a few genetic traits -- or conventional agriculture improvements such as more crop rotations and more efficient irrigation and fertilizer use.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents major firms involved in producing genetically engineered crops, noted that overall corn yields have increased 36 percent and soybeans 12 percent since the biotech crops were introduced.

?It?s absurd to deny biotechnology?s contribution, among other factors, to increased crop production,? said Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, an executive vice president at BIO.

?When farmer surveys have been conducted on yield benefits from biotech crops, the results have been overwhelmingly positive, with farmers finding their crop yields have increased,? she said.

The focus on improving food yields has grown amid higher food prices, growing populations and an increase in the number of people worldwide that are going hungry. An estimated 963 million people worldwide were undernourished last year, up from 923 million in 2007.

Biotech crops, primarily corn, soybeans, cotton and canola, have genes that have been manipulated to express specific traits, most commonly a resistance to herbicide, which helps farmers. Biotech developers such as Monsanto Co patent the crop technology and tightly control use of the seed.

Genetically modified crops were adopted quickly after introduction in the 1990s. Eighty percent of corn and 92 percent of soybeans grown in the United States in 2008 came from biotech crops, said the Agriculture Department.

The UCS report said as genetic engineers work to identify new genes ?it would not be unexpected that some of them may eventually be successful in increasing yields.?

It warned, however, that as the manipulation of genes becomes more complex it will increase the need for stronger oversight to detect and prevent harmful side effects that may occur. These concerns may reduce the commercial acceptance of the crops.

The study also encouraged greater exploration of other methods, such as organic farming and improved traditional breeding, instead of placing too much dependence on biotech crops, especially in poor countries.

The UCS review was heavily dependent on nearly two-dozen studies conducted by university scientists and later published in peer-reviewed journals. (Reporting by Christopher Doering; Editing by Marguerita Choy)



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:  GENE-ALTERED CROPS DO LITTLE FOR YIELDS, GROUP SAYS

SOURCE: Bloomberg, USA

AUTHOR: Tony C. Dreibus

URL:    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601082&sid=afW_42F_P6rg&refer=canada

DATE:   14.04.2009

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GENE-ALTERED CROPS DO LITTLE FOR YIELDS, GROUP SAYS

April 14 (Bloomberg) -- Genetically engineered crops do little to improve yields and instead promote the proliferation of herbicide-resistant weeds that actually curb production, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Corn and soybeans modified to resist insects and the herbicide glyphosate haven?t been proven to boost yields, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based group said today in a 44-page report sent via e-mail. The modified plants have increased the number of glyphosate-resistant weeds that compete for soil nutrients and moisture, reducing production, the group said.

?The two major types of traits now present in transgenic crops -- insect resistance and herbicide tolerance -- are often classic contributors to operational yield,? said Doug Gurian- Sherman, a senior scientist in the group and the author of the report. ?Neither trait would be expected to enhance potential or intrinsic yield, and indeed, there is virtually no evidence that they have done so.?

Operational yield is obtained under normal field conditions and includes factors such as pests and other stressors, the report said. Intrinsic yield is the highest that can be achieved with crops grown under ideal conditions.

?Absurd?

Monsanto Co., the world?s biggest seed producer, didn?t return calls seeking comment. Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, an executive vice president of food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, said the report by the Union of Concerned Scientists is ?absurd.?

?Biotech crops help to provide for more sustainable agricultural production,? Bomer Lauritsen said. ?The benefits include a reduction in the environmental impacts of agriculture, increased production on the same amount of acreage, improved food quality and increased farmer incomes. It?s absurd to deny biotechnology?s contribution.?

Shares of Monsanto, based in St. Louis, fell $1.31, or 1.6 percent, to $81.76 at 3:56 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Before today, they dropped 31 percent in the past 12 months.

Improvements in traditional breeding and other agricultural practices will be more effective in boosting production, Gurian- Sherman said in the report.

?Traditional Breeding?

Genetically engineered ?soybeans have not increased yields, and GE corn has increased yield only marginally on a crop-wide basis,? the union said. ?Overall, corn and soybean yields have risen substantially over the last 15 years, but largely not as a result of the GE traits. Most of the gains are due to traditional breeding or improvement of other agricultural practices.?

The union is a ?science-based non-profit? group started in 1969 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The group?s Web site says it has more than 250,000 members using scientific research to promote changes in government policy, corporate practices and consumer choices.

The group looked at ?the best peer-reviewed literature? to collect the information, Gurian-Sherman said on a conference call. The union evaluated 20 years of research and details from 13 years of seed sales in the U.S.

Corn yields have increased to 9.7 tons per hectare this year from 7.5 tons per hectare (120 bushels an acre) in 1987, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. Soybean yields were 40 bushels per acre, up from 32 in 1989, the USDA said.

Today, Germany banned planting of a strain of genetically modified corn made by Monsanto, citing ?a danger to the environment.? Austria and Hungary made similar moves last month.

The European Commission, the European Union?s regulatory arm, has argued the bans were unjustified because scientists have determined the products are safe for consumption and the environment.



                                  PART 3

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  CORN, SOY YIELDS GAIN LITTLE FROM GENETIC ENGINEERING: STUDY

SOURCE: Agence France Presse, France

AUTHOR: 

URL:    http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hXcB48aYGuOHW6SKuxGtW8zpojuQ

DATE:   14.04.2009

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CORN, SOY YIELDS GAIN LITTLE FROM GENETIC ENGINEERING: STUDY

WASHINGTON (AFP) ? The use of genetically engineered corn and soybeans in the United States for more than a decade has had little impact on crop yields despite claims that they could ease looming food shortages, a study released on Tuesday concluded.

?A hard-nosed assessment of this expensive technology?s achievements to date gives little confidence that it will play a major role in helping the world feed itself in the forseeable future,? said the report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The study evaluated the effect on corn and soybean crop yields of genetically engineered varieties commercialized in the United States over the past 13 years, examining peer-reviewed academic studies that date back to the early 1990s.

?Based on that record, we conclude that GE (genetic engineering) has done little to increase overall crop yields,? it said.

The report said genetically engineered soybeans account for 90 percent of soybeans grown in the United States, while genetically engineered corn accounts for 63 percent of the US corn crop.

?Overall, corn and soybean yields have risen substantially over the last 15 years, but largely not as a result of the GE traits,? the report said. ?Most of the gains are due to traditional breeding or improvement of other agricultural practices.?

It found that corn and soybeans that were genetically modified to increase their tolerance to herbicides ?have not increased operational yields, whether on a per acre or national basis, compared to conventional methods that rely on other available herbicides.?

Corn modified with genes from Bt, or Bacillus thuringienisis, bacteria for resistance to several kinds of insects did provide higher yields, but the study estimated the increase at between 0.2 and 0.3 percent a year on average over the past 13 years.

Overall corn yields in the United States have increased an average of about one percent a year, it said.

?More specifically, US Department of Agriculture data indicate that the average corn production per acre nationwide over the past five years (2004-2008) was about 28 percent higher than for the five-year period 1991-1995,? it said.

?But our analysis of specific yield studies concludes that only 4-5 percent of that increase is attributable to Bt, meaning an increase of about 24-25 percent must be due to other factors such as conventional breeding,? it said.



                                  PART 4

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  GENETIC ENGINEERING HAS FAILED TO SIGNIFICANTLY BOOST U.S. CROP YIELDS DESPITE BIOTECH INDUSTRY CLAIMS

SOURCE: Union of Concerned Scientists, USA

AUTHOR: Press Release

URL:    http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/ge-fails-to-increase-yields-0219.html

DATE:   14.04.2009

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GENETIC ENGINEERING HAS FAILED TO SIGNIFICANTLY BOOST U.S. CROP YIELDS DESPITE BIOTECH INDUSTRY CLAIMS

Increases over last decade largely due to traditional breeding and conventional agricultural improvements

For years, the biotechnology industry has trumpeted that it will feed the world, promising that its genetically engineered crops will produce higher yields.

That promise has proven to be empty, according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.

?The biotech industry has spent billions on research and public relations hype, but genetically engineered food and feed crops haven?t enabled American farmers to grow significantly more crops per acre of land,? said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a biologist in the UCS Food and Environment Program and author of the report. ?In comparison, traditional breeding continues to deliver better results.?

The report, ?Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops,? is the first to closely evaluate the overall effect genetic engineering has had on crop yields in relation to other agricultural technologies. It reviewed two dozen academic studies of corn and soybeans, the two primary genetically engineered food and feed crops grown in the United States. Based on those studies, the UCS report concluded that genetically engineering herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn has not increased yields. Insect-resistant corn, meanwhile, has improved yields only marginally. The increase in yields for both crops over the last 13 years, the report found, was largely due to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices.

The UCS report comes at a time when food price spikes and localized shortages worldwide have prompted calls to boost agricultural productivity, or yield?the amount of a crop produced per unit of land over a specified amount of time. Biotechnology companies maintain that genetic engineering is essential to meeting this goal. Monsanto, for example, is currently running an advertising campaign warning of an exploding world population and claiming that its ?advanced seeds ? significantly increase crop yields?.? The UCS report debunks that claim, concluding that genetic engineering is unlikely to play a significant role in increasing food production in the foreseeable future.

The biotechnology industry has been promising better yields since the mid-1990s, but ?Failure to Yield? documents that the industry has been carrying out gene field trials to increase yields for 20 years without significant results.

?After more than 3,000 field trials, only two types of engineered genes are in widespread use, and they haven?t helped raise the ceiling on potential yields,? said Margaret Mellon, a microbiologist and director of UCS?s Food and Environment Program. ?This record does not inspire confidence in the future of the technology.?

?Failure to Yield? makes a critical distinction between potential?or intrinsic?yield and operational yield, concepts that are often conflated by the industry and misunderstood by others. Intrinsic yield refers to a crop?s ultimate production potential under the best possible conditions. Operational yield refers to production levels after losses due to pests, drought and other environmental factors.

The study reviewed the intrinsic and operational yield achievements of the three most common genetically altered food and feed crops in the United States: herbicide-tolerant soybeans, herbicide-tolerant corn and insect-resistant corn (known as Bt corn, after the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, whose genes enable the corn to resist several kinds of insects).

Herbicide-tolerant soybeans, herbicide-tolerant corn and Bt corn have failed to increase intrinsic yields, the report found. Herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn also have failed to increase operational yields, compared with conventional methods.

Meanwhile, the report found that Bt corn likely provides a marginal operational yield advantage of 3 to 4 percent over typical conventional practices. Since Bt corn became commercially available in 1996, its yield advantage averages out to a 0.2 to 0.3 percent yield increase per year. To put that figure in context, overall U.S. corn yields over the last several decades have annually averaged an increase of approximately 1 percent, which is considerably more than what Bt traits have provided.

In addition to evaluating genetic engineering?s record, ?Failure to Yield? considers the technology?s potential role in increasing food production over the next few decades. The report does not discount the possibility of genetic engineering eventually contributing to increase crop yields. It does, however, suggest that it makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of technologies that have proven to substantially increase yields, especially in many developing countries. In addition, recent studies have shown that organic and similar farming methods that minimize the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can more than double crop yields at little cost to poor farmers in such developing regions as Sub-Saharan Africa.

The report recommends that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state agricultural agencies, and universities increase research and development for proven approaches to boost crop yields. Those approaches should include modern conventional plant breeding methods, sustainable and organic farming, and other sophisticated farming practices that do not require farmers to pay significant upfront costs. The report also recommends that U.S. food aid organizations make these more promising and affordable alternatives available to farmers in developing countries.

?If we are going to make headway in combating hunger due to overpopulation and climate change, we will need to increase crop yields,? said Gurian-Sherman. ?Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.?

The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading U.S. science-based nonprofit organization working for a healthy environment and a safer world. Founded in 1969, UCS is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and also has offices in Berkeley, Chicago and Washington, D.C.



                                  PART 5

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  BIO DEBUNKS MYTHS IN ANTI-INDUSTRY REPORT

SOURCE: Biotechnology Industry Organization, USA

AUTHOR: Press Release

URL:    http://www.bio.org/news/pressreleases/newsitem.asp?id=2009_0414_01

DATE:   14.04.2009

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BIO DEBUNKS MYTHS IN ANTI-INDUSTRY REPORT

Agricultural Biotechnology Helps Farmers Increase Crop Production

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Tuesday, April 14, 2009) - Crops improved through biotechnology are being adopted by farmers around the world because of the benefits this science delivers. Biotech traits, such as insect and herbicide tolerance, help to increase yields by protecting plants that would otherwise be lost due to insects or weeds. Many experts agree that agricultural biotechnology has an important role to play in helping to feed and fuel a growing world.

A report titled ?Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops,? released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) questions biotechnology?s ability to increase crop yields. Despite impressive increases in crop production statistics since the introduction of agricultural biotechnology in 1996, USC claims these successes are not due to genetic engineering.

Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, Executive Vice President, Food and Agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), issued the following statement in response to the report:

?Biotech crops help to provide for more sustainable agricultural production. The benefits include a reduction in the environmental impacts of agriculture, increased production on the same amount of acreage, improved food quality, and increased farmer incomes.

?It?s absurd to deny biotechnology?s contribution, among other factors, to increased crop production. Since the introduction of agricultural biotechnology in 1996, we have seen double-digit growth in corn and soybean yields.

Specifically, according to the USDA Annual Summary Crop Production Report, 2009:

-1.	In the United States, where today 80 percent of the nation?s corn acreage is planted with biotechnology varieties, yields have increased 36 percent since 1995, the last year before biotech varieties were commercially planted.

-1.	With about 92 percent of the U.S. soybean acreage now planted with biotech varieties, soybean yields have increased 12 percent since 1995.

?The fact is, marker-assisted breeding has nearly doubled the rate of yield gain when compared to traditional breeding alone. In developing countries, where resources to effectively control weeds and insects are often limited, these traits have increased yield substantially.

?When you look at the rising number of acres of biotech crops planted each year (309 million in 2008) and the increasing number of farmers who have chosen this technology (13.3 million in 2008), it?s obvious that biotech crops are delivering value to more and more growers around the world.

?When farmer surveys have been conducted on yield benefits from biotech crops, the results have been overwhelmingly positive, with farmers finding their crop yields have increased. These benefits accrue to farmers with both large and small farms.

?At a time when the United States and the world are looking for science-based solutions to help meet the demands of a growing population, agricultural biotechnology is able to deliver heartier crops that yield more per acre in a more environmentally and economically sustainable way. The biotechnology industry is committed to providing solutions to enlist in that effort.?


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